29 December 2014

Book Review - Unternehmen Seelöwe [Operation Sealion] - Monika Siedentopf (2014)

Unternehmen Seelöwe - book cover from Amazon.de.
Unternehmen Seelöwe - book cover
from Amazon.de.

The Book
Unternehmen Seelöwe: Widerstand im deutschen Geheimdienst [Operation Sealion: Resistance in the German Intelligence Service]. Monika Siedentopf. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, München, 2014.

Review
In the last year I have read several English-language books which have suggested that during World War 2, the German Intelligence Service (Abwehr), far from being stupid and incompetent, actively undermined the Nazi regime. Most of these books have focused on the role of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, and his colleagues. A few months ago, I came across reviews for a new book which focused on the Abwehr's role in sabotaging Operation Sealion, Hitler's planned invasion of England in 1940/1941.

This book, by German historian Monika Siedentopf, stretched my German language skills to the limit but was quite readable once I added some espionage and military terms to my German vocabulary. Siedentopf lays out the events leading up to Operation Sealion and gives a brief history of the Abwehr, MI5 and MI6. She then gives a brief overview of the various Operation LENA spies that were sent to England in 1940 and 1941, including Josef Jakobs. In the following chapter, she outlines the main players in the Abwehr and their connection with the resistance movement. Next, she zooms in on the Hamburg Abwehrstelle and outlines the main officers and their connection with the resistance movement. Finally, she brings it all together in a chapter devoted to Operation LENA and points how that the poor selection and training of the LENA spies was part of a larger plot to sabotage Hitler's plans to invade England.

I had hoped that this book would have brought forth some German sources of information but Siedentopf draws heavily on the MI5 interrogation files at the National Archives in Kew. The information contained within those files is often sparse, weeded and incomplete. Siedentopf herself notes that Wichmann and the other Abwehr officers never really talked about their connection with the German resistance after the war, so some of her conclusions are based on inference.

Given all that I have read, however, I would agree with her overall conclusion. The German Abwehr, so efficient in their operations against France, the Low Countries and Russia, was uncharacteristically clumsy against England. Some MI5 officers, such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, accepted such clumsiness as par-for-the-course with the Abwehr. But other MI5 officers (Guy Liddell) and English military officers (Kenneth Strong) were very perplexed by the poor training of the LENA spies. When one understands that the LENA spies were never meant to succeed, the pieces of the puzzle fit together quite neatly.

At the highest levels, the German Abwehr sabotaged Operation Sealion, convinced that a German invasion of England would be a monumental failure and a disaster for Germany. The Abwehr officers had many difficult decisions to make but in the end decided that it was better to sacrifice a few hapless spies than risk the lives of thousands of German soldiers.

Summary
I kept expecting a huge revelation from this book, a smoking gun, but it never came. I did appreciate how the author zoomed in to take a detailed look at Abwehr resistance activities in regards to Operation Sealion. Several of the chapters read like a who's who of the German Abwehr, with mini-biography following mini-biography. Towards the end of the book, the author notes that after the war, the Abwehr officers never talked about their resistance activities. Yet she makes very little reference to Nikolaus Ritter's memoir written in the 1970s. I was left rather disappointed at the end of the book - perhaps because I expected more German sources from a German author. 

Review Score
4 out of 5 - a fairly easy read with a good summary of the events surrounding Operation Sealion

24 December 2014

The Rocky Road to Josef Jakob's Court Martial: the Director of Public Prosecutions

For a variety of reasons, MI5 decided that Josef Jakobs was the ideal candidate to be tried by a military court martial. Primary among those reasons was the fact that Josef was an "enemy alien", i.e. a citizen of a country with whom Britain was at war, in this case, Germany. Other "enemy aliens" had been captured (e.g. Karl Theodore Drücke) but since their accomplices were neutral citizens, they were tried as a group in a civilian court.

Josef had no accomplices. He admitted that he was a German citizen. He admitted that both of his parents were German citizens. But the icing on the cake, so to speak, at least from the MI5 perspective, was that Josef also claimed to be a member of the German Armed Forces. A spy who admitted he was an enemy alien in the armed forces - perfect candidate for a court martial.

The path to Josef's court martial, however, was not an easy one. Many people would be involved in the decision and several levels of bureaucracy would need to be successfully negotiated.
On June 21, having assembled all of their supporting documentation, Lt. Col. William Edward Hinchley Cooke, Dick G. White (MI5's B Division) and Guy M. Liddell (head of MI5's B Division) sat down and drafted an Application to the Attorney General asking that Josef be tried by Court Martial under Section 2(1)(b) of the Treachery Act (1940). The relevant section of the Treachery Act read:
any enemy alien may, if the Attorney General so directs, be prosecuted for an offence against this Act before a court martial, and upon such a direction being given with respect to an enemy alien the Army Act shall apply for the purpose of his custody, trial, sentence, and punishment as if he were, and had been at the time when the offence is alleged to have been committed, a person subject to military law.
The MI5 Application to the Attorney General was extremely brief. It included a one page summary in which the MI5 officers took pains to point out that Josef was an enemy alien and a member of the military – both key points for proceeding with a court martial. In addition to the summary, the application included a statement that Josef had made to Hinchley Cooke on June 18 and a list of the possessions found on Josef. The Application was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and probably landed on his desk at Devonshire House in Piccadilly on Monday, June 23.

Sir Edward Hale Tindal Atkinson  Director of Public Prosecutions 1930-1944  (from National Portrait Gallery)
Sir Edward Hale Tindal Atkinson
Director of Public Prosecutions 1930-1944
(from National Portrait Gallery)
The Application did not come as a surprise to the DPP for prior to beginning the formal application process MI5 had tested the waters and had had several unofficial conversations, one of which had been with the DPP. He, for his part, had consulted one of the Parliamentary draftsman regarding the intentions lying behind the Treachery Act. While nothing was said when the Treachery Bill was before the House, it was apparently the Attorney General's intention to limit the use of his power by only accepting court martial applications for enemy aliens who were in the military service of their country. Of all the cases before them, MI5 knew that Josef's case had the best chance of being approved for court martial - an enemy alien who was in military service to Germany. It might seem then, that placing the Application before the DPP was a mere formality, but the DPP took his job very seriously. It was he who decided whether a case should be prosecuted or not. In many respects, the DPP held the lives of many accused in his hands, including those of the World War 2 spies. Who was the man who determined the fate of so many prisoners?

Ariel, 1915  Painting by Maud Tindal Atkinson
Ariel, 1915
Painting by Maud Tindal Atkinson
Edward Hale Tindal Atkinson was born on 9 September 1878 in Bromley, Kent. His parents were Henry Tindal Atkinson, a county court judge and Marion Amy Lewin. Edward was the only son in the family and was subjected to the tender mercies of two older and two younger sisters. Edward escaped from home as quickly as possible and studied classics and modern history at Trinity College, Oxford, where his friends called him “Tatters”. Following in his father’s footsteps, Edward was called to the Bar in 1902 and built up a substantial practice as a barrister, a practice that was interrupted by World War I.

While Edward was making a name for himself as a barrister, his older sister Amy Maud Tindal Atkinson was making a name for herself as a painter. Maud studied under Byam Shaw at the Kings College for Women in Kensington. She exhibited 15 paintings at the Royal Academy between 1906 and 1937. She was a member of The Royal Society of Miniaturists and illustrated several children's books. Maud never married, nor did her sister Enid Katherine, and it appears that their brother, too, never wed.

Chevalier of the  Légion d'honneur.
Chevalier of the
Légion d'honneur.
During the latter part of World War I, on 12 November 1917, Edward was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He moved through several different postings and eventually finished the war as a Major in the Royal Air Force on 17 June 1919.

With his background in law, Edward was selected as a legal representative for Britain at the peace negotiations. Given that Hinchley Cooke was also present at the peace talks in 1920, the two men might even have been acquainted with each other. After the peace was concluded, Edward was rewarded by being appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) and receiving the Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.

Returning to Britain, Edward re-established his legal practice and eventually, in March 1930, was made Director of Public Prosecutions, much to his own surprise. He performed the role remarkably well and in 1932 was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. At the start of World War 2, Sir Edward helped to prepare the Defence Regulations and the infamous Treachery Act.

Edward retired from his role as DPP in 1944 and became chairman of the Central Price Regulation Committee, remaining there until its dissolution in April 1953. Edward passed away on 26 December 1957 having served his country faithfully and well. Edward's estate was valued at £30,859 (a small fortune) and probably passed to his only surviving family member, his younger sister Doris Mary (Atkinson) Mellish.

References
National Archives, Security Service file on Josef Jakobs - KV 2/27.
National Archives, Cabinet file on Spy Trials under the Treachery Act - CAB 114/51.
Wikipedia - Sir Edward Atkinson.
Wikipedia - Maud Tindal Atkinson.
Family Genealogy for Tolliss, Tollis, Blott and Brimson.

19 December 2014

Kenneth C. Howard's Little Black Book

N.B. See my February 12, 2017 blog for a break in the case.

Birmingham Police envelope in which notebooks were sent to MI5 - National Archives KV 2/27
Birmingham Police envelope in which notebooks were sent to MI5
(National Archives KV 2/27)
In addition to the 1936 diary, the Birmingham Police sent a small black notebook to MI5. The envelope noted "One diary and one notebook containing suspicious entries. See B'ham City Police report dated 5th June 1941".

The cover note that accompanied the notebook through the corridors of  MI5 read the same.

The small black notebook that accompanied  the blue 1936 diary of Kenneth C. Howard.  (National Archives KV 2/27)
The small black notebook that accompanied
the blue 1936 diary of Kenneth C. Howard.
(National Archives KV 2/27)
The little notebook was about the same size as the diary and quite worn. Within its pages, there was evidence of adult handwriting and of child handwriting. The inside cover displayed examples of both types of handwriting. A couple of stickers from British regiments were stuck to one side of the inside cover - the 17th Lancers and the 40th Pathans (India). The other side stated: "On behalf of the Federation Bureau of Investigation", clearly a child's mishearing of the American "Federal Bureau of Investigation". The child named Kenneth C. Howard imagined that he was a member of the FBI and played at being an investigator.
The inside cover of the small black notebook.  (National Archives KV 2/27)
The inside cover of the small black notebook.
(National Archives KV 2/27)

Near the end of the notebook were several pages which gave a Table of Contents for the notebook.
The contents list of the small black notebook. (National Archives KV 2/27)
The contents list of the small black notebook.
(National Archives KV 2/27)

Items included a list of Members of the Police Force, the Hebrew alphabet, Foreign Coinage and Aircraft Registration numbers.
The contents list of the small black notebook. (National Archives KV 2/27)
The contents list of the small black notebook.
(National Archives KV 2/27)

Page 38 was labeled "Der Könige von Rumanie", with a picture of the King of Romania. Beneath the image were the words "Deutschland über Alle!". Although apparently written in German neither phrase is grammatically correct German, and was clearly not written by someone familiar with the German language.
A page with a picture of the King of Romania from the small black notebook. (National Archives KV 2/27)
A page with a picture of the King of Romania from the small black notebook.
(National Archives KV 2/27)

This particular page was placed on display at the National Archives Curator's Museum as part of a display on Josef Jakobs several years ago. It's connection with Josef Jakobs, however, is questionable. The notebook and 1936 diary were never included in any list of Josef's possessions but were sent to MI5 from the Birmingham City Police. The interrogation reports of Josef Jakobs make no mention of the notebooks or Kenneth C. Howard. The only espionage connection associated with Kenneth C. Howard and his notebooks was the reference to Karl Theodore Drücke. Given the other examples of Josef's handwriting contained within the MI5 files, it was also clear that none of the handwriting in either the 1936 diary or the black notebook belonged to him. The notebook and the diary have absolutely no connection with Josef Jakobs and were presumably misfiled at some point.

References

National Archives, Security Service files on Josef Jakobs - KV 2/27.

15 December 2014

The Mysterious Diary of Kenneth C. Howard

N.B. See my February 12, 2017 blog for a break in the case. 

If you were to visit the National Archives at Kew in London, and order file KV 2/27, you would receive a box containing some of the spy paraphernalia of German spy Josef Jakobs. Two small notebooks within that box would perplex you, as they have perplexed me for several years. You see, the notebooks were never included in MI5's exhaustive lists of Josef's possessions. The name of Kenneth C. Howard, repeated several times in the pages of the notebooks was a mystery.

To date I have written two blog posts about the notebooks, musing on the identity of their owner, Kenneth C. Howard, and how he and his notebooks could be connected with German espionage. Alas, on previous visits to the National Archives, I had neglected to photograph every page in the the notebooks, so my speculations and theories were based on limited information. A recent trip to London has solved that dilemma.

The Envelope
The first clue in the solution of the mystery was a tattered brown envelope with a stamp that read "One diary and one note-book containing suspicious entries. See B'ham City Police report dated 5th. June 1941". The notebooks were clearly collected by the Birmingham Police. This was supported by a stamp on the envelope which read "If Undelivered, Return to the Chief Constable, Birmingham". This was the envelope in which the notebooks were sent to MI5. Since Josef was never in Birmingham, the notebooks most likely originated with the mysterious Kenneth C. Howard.

The Birmingham Police saw something alarming within the pages of the notebooks, something that was espionage-related and made them think that MI5 should see them. There was, however, no indication on the enveloped that the notebooks were associated with any particular spy.
Birmingham Police envelope in which notebooks were sent to MI5 - National Archives KV 2/27
Birmingham Police envelope in which notebooks were sent to MI5 - National Archives KV 2/27
The next piece of paper was a note that essentially repeated the envelope information - possibly an MI5 note that accompanied the notebooks as they made the rounds of the Security Service.
MI5 note that accompanied notebooks (National Archives KV 2/27)
MI5 note that accompanied notebooks
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Finally, there was a National Archives curatorial card that repeated the information, but now linked it to a certain spy, PF 55039. This MI5 number referred to Josef Jakobs. So, somewhere between MI5 dealing with the notebooks and them being released to the public at the National Archives, a connection was made with Josef Jakobs.
National Archives curatorial card that accompanied diary (National Archives KV 2/27)
National Archives curatorial card that accompanied diary
(National Archives KV 2/27)
The 1936 Diary
The diary was small and blue, made of faux-leather. It was dated 1936 and there were two sets of handwriting within its pages. One set had a well-formed script that was probably made by an adult. The second set was less well-formed and was probably made by a child.
Blue diary - cover (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - cover
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Many of the pages within the diary were blank, but several key pages are reproduced here. On the inside cover page, a childish hand had written the address of a Mrs. Wallace who lived on Fernbank Road in Llandudno, North Wales.
Blue diary - inside cover (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - inside cover
(National Archives KV 2/27)
On the next page, a more well-formed script gave the address of K.C. Howard, 128 Durham Road, Bromley, Kent, England. This particular address was repeated in the small black book (more on that in this blog post) but it was hard to tell if the shire was Hant. or Kent. 
Blue diary - address of Kenneth C. Howard (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - address of Kenneth C. Howard
(National Archives KV 2/27)
After a few blank pages, the childish script entry for February 6 would definitely have aroused the suspicions of the Birmingham detectives. "Ship 'Nirvana' made water to No. I Hold at Malta". As far as can be determined there was no HMS Nirvana, so the entry remains rather cryptic. On February 8, a note stated "Sold 104 c/s f. Leaf Spinach @4/9 Rev Day(?)". A strange juxtaposition of notes that spoke not of cabbages and kings but of spinach and ships.
Blue diary - spinach and ship notes (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - spinach and ship notes
(National Archives KV 2/27)
The entry for May 13, however, was most enlightening. Written in block capital letters it stated:
Today my friend [indecipherable] Karl Theodore Druecke 30 yrs old, was today sentenced to 3 yrs imprisonment + 10 yrs Banishment.

Blue diary - May 13 entry regarding Karl Theodore Druecke (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - May 13 entry regarding Karl Theodore Druecke
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Karl Theodore Druecke was a spy who landed on the Banffshire coast in late September 1940, along with Werner Walti & Vera de Schalburg. Druecke admitted to MI5 interrogators that he had been sent to prison in France on May 13, 1936 for three years. This particular diary entry was the only one to make a clear link between the owner of the diary and any particular German spy.

The entry for June 4 simply stated "Today is my Birthday".
Blue diary - June 4 entry - Kenneth C. Howard's birthday? (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - June 4 entry - Kenneth C. Howard's birthday?
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Towards the end of the diary, there were a few cryptic notes on the "Things Lent" page and then a list of radio station frequencies for various cities in Britain and Europe.
Blue diary - list of radio stations (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - list of radio stations
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Finally, there was an address section at the bank of the diary, several pages of which were missing.
Blue diary - address section and back cover (National Archives KV 2/27)
Blue diary - address section and back cover
(National Archives KV 2/27)
Conclusion
What then can be made of this small blue diary? In all likelihood, the notebooks were confiscated from Kenneth C. Howard due to the suspicious entries. Talk of ships and spinach, the mention of an incarcerated German spy and lists of radio frequencies were bound to look suspicious to police who had been encouraged to beware of Fifth Columnists. The notebooks were sent on to London, where the officers of MI5 would have flipped through the diary pages and stopped at the entry for May 13. Karl Theodore Druecke?? That was suspicious indeed!

Karl Theodore Druecke (National Archives - KV 2/19)
Karl Theodore Druecke
(National Archives - KV 2/19)
Most likely, Druecke would have been hauled in for another interrogation by Tin-Eye Stephens at Camp 020. The officers at the camp had been having trouble breaking Druecke and Walti, perhaps this little tidbit would help. "Who was Kenneth C. Howard? What was Druecke's connection with Kenneth C. Howard? Had he ever been in Birmingham? Speak now!!"

Unfortunately, the Druecke files released to the National Archives were heavily weeded by MI5. All that remained was a thin, photocopied file, lacking any original documentation. In the few papers that linger, there was no mention of the diary, the notebook, or Kenneth C. Howard. Unfortunate.

How the notebooks came to be associated with Josef remains a mystery, but not a serious one. MI5 did occasionally mix up evidence. One spy, Nicolai Hansen, arrived on a Norwegian boat in Scotland and was promptly arrested, his possessions seized and bundled off to London. By the time he arrived and was questioned by Lt. Col. Hinchley-Cooke, several new "trivial" things had appeared amongst his possessions that were not his. Similarly, Josef arrived with a Catholic medal that disappeared rather quickly from MI5's possession.

At some point then, these two notebooks, originally linked to Karl Theodore Druecke were mislabeled, misfiled or mislaid... and ended up associated with Josef Jakobs.

As for the identity of Kenneth C. Howard and how he came to the attention of the Birmingham Police, that remains a mystery.

References
National Archives, Security Service file KV 2/19 on Karl Theodore Druecke.
National Archives, Security Service file KV 2/27 on Josef Jakobs.

10 December 2014

Book Review - Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails by David Leslie (2014)

Book Cover - Banged Up: Doing Time in  Britain's Toughest Jails (from Amazon)
Book Cover - Banged Up: Doing Time in
Britain's Toughest Jails (from Amazon)

The Book
Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails. David Leslie. Black & White Publishing, 2014.

Review
According to the publisher's website, David Leslie "was a senior journalist with the News of the World for over forty years, latterly as Scottish Crime Editor. He is the author of several books including Crimelord, the story of underworld supremo Tam ‘The Licensee’ McGraw, and The Happy Dust Gang, telling how businessmen plotted the start of major cocaine smuggling. He has appeared in television documentaries giving unique insights into notorious crimes and criminals and is a regular contributor to radio stations and newspapers, drawing on his extensive and unchallenged knowledge of the Scottish underworld."

The author is clearly well-versed in Britain's crime scene. It is interesting to note his long association with the notorious News of the World newspaper.

Banged Up: Doing Time in Britain's Toughest Jails tells the history of six of Britain's most notorious jails - Durham, Wandsworth, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Dartmoor and Holloway. Since several World War 2 spies were held and/or executed at those prisons, the author devotes an entire chapter to their stories.

Chapter 23, strangely named "Trapped by Sausages", begins with the four spies who landed along the coast of Kent in early September 1940. Naturally, the stories are brief in nature but there are also several errors. In regards to Sjoerd Pons, one of the spies captured along the coast of Kent, the author states that "Pons went free after convincing his interrogators that he had been caught smuggling by the Gestapo and only escaped being shot by agreeing to join the other three". Pons did not convince his interrogators of any such thing. Pons was charged under the Treachery Act and placed on civil trial with the other three men. In his case, however, the jury was swayed by his story of Gestapo coercion and acquitted him, much to the frustration of his interrogators.

The author also touches on the story of three spies, Werner Waelti, Karl Druecke and Vera Schalburg who landed along the Banffshire coast in late September, 1940. The author notes that "all three were sent for interrogation to London and charged with treachery, but on the day their trial was due to begin it was revealed Schalburg would not be appearing after giving enough information to ensure her fellow spies would be convicted". Again, this is not accurate - Schalburg was never charged under the Treachery Act, a mystery that has yet to be solved.

During the retelling of the story of Karel Richter, the author indicates that Richter was confronted with the double-cross agent (TATE) with whom he was to have met in London. Nowhere in Richter's MI5 files is there any indication of this supposed encounter.

Then, there is the author's account of Josef Jakobs. The errors in the brief account are numerous. Josef was not a native of Luxembourg, he was a German citizen born of German parents in Luxembourg. Josef was flown to England on 31 January, not 1 February. He did not parachute over Peterborough but over Ramsey.

The most egregious error regarding Josef states:
The night before he was carried to the chair, where he would sit while he waited for the firing squad to take aim, he wrote a last letter to his wife and young family, telling them of his love and of his sadness of being unable to say his goodbyes. The letter was later forwarded to his widow".

The information about Josef's final letter clearly comes from information that I provided to several media sources (Radio Times & National Geographic) in January 2012. Those statements to the media made it clear that Josef's last letter to his family was NEVER delivered to his widow. It was held in the Home Office files until 1993 when it was given to my sister and I. This information is also clearly indicated on my Josef Jakobs website. Josef's case, it turns out was not unique. Many of the World War 2 spies wrote final letters to their loved ones, the majority of which were never delivered and reside in their MI5 files at the National Archives.

Finally, Josef was not carried to the chair on the morning of his execution. All of the WWI spies who were executed in World War I were also seated in a chair - that was simply the procedure for Tower executions by firing squad. Given that the author is telling prison history stories, it is interesting to note that he neglects to mention Josef's time at Wandsworth Prison.

Summary
I cannot speak for the remainder of the book, but the chapter on World War 2 spies is filled with errors, some quite disturbing. The author has made an attempt to make history entertaining and it is unfortunate that the factual errors detract from the book as a whole. I emailed the author regarding the section on Josef Jakobs and received no reply.

Review Score
1 out of 5 - the remainder of the book was not reviewed and may be entertaining

05 December 2014

BBC Documentary - The Spies that Fooled Hitler (1999)

BBC Documentary - The Spies that Fooled Hitler (1999)
BBC Documentary - The Spies that Fooled Hitler (1999)

Original Air Date - 2 October 1999
Series - Timewatch

Duration - 45:52 minutes

Producer - Tilman Remme
BBC/History Channel Co-Production

Part 1 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 2 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 3 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 4 clip available here - 10 minutes
Part 5 clip available here - 5:52 minutes

Review
I came across this show by accident on YouTube. Produced in 1999 by BBC and the History Channel, the show gives a fairly good summary of the Double-Cross system. While many of the classified MI5 documents were released after 2000, the show makes up for that by interviewing men and women who served with MI5 during World War 2. Such living testimony is quite rare today and more than makes up for the lack of archival documents. One of the women who was involved in the interrogation of Karel Richter (probably as a transcriptionist) noted that it was all rather like a game, until the morning of an execution day. Then it all became very real. While the show makes no mention of Josef Jakobs, the first two clips (above) provide some insight into the operations of MI5 and Camp 020 during the time when he was in their custody.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - the live interviews with former MI5 officers and staff are fascinating

01 December 2014

PBS Documentary - Secrets of the Tower of London (2013)

PBS Documentary - Secrets of the Tower of London (2013)
PBS Documentary - Secrets of the Tower of London (2013)

Aired - 27 October 2013
Series - Secrets of Britain

Duration - 55:11 minutes

Producer - Vicky Matthews
Produced by - Pioneer Productions
Clip available here
Or here on PBS website

Review
Trying to cram 1000 years of history into a 55 minute show is a bit of a challenge, but this show gives a good overview of the history of the Tower of London. Naturally, certain aspects of Tower history are glossed over, and some are simply omitted. There is no mention of the role that the Tower played during World War I and the execution of German spies. On the other hand, the show does devote two minutes to covering the story of Josef Jakobs, the last person executed in the Tower (31:00 to 33:12 on the YouTube video). Necessarily brief, the segment is fairly accurate. The show also touches on the history of Tower Bridge (26:00 to 31:00) and provides a rather fascinating look into the Victorian mechanism that opens and closes the bridge.

Review Score
4.5 out of 5 - enjoyable and informative